FirstGen@ND: Department of American Studies Professor Jennifer Huynh was the first in her family to attend college

Department of American Studies Professor Jennifer Huynh was the first person in her family to go to college.

“Attending university wasn’t only for myself; it was for my family and for a better future,” says Huynh.

Her father was a refugee from Vietnam and her mother was a hairdresser. They were proud of Huynh’s admission to the universities she applied to.

“My father was so proud of my acceptances. I just remember him–he wasn’t a very emotional person–holding a letter and crying…He put them all on the wall…and later, when I made the Dean’s list, [he added that and there were] all these letters of support,” remembers Huynh.


Originally from Southern California, Huynh completed her undergraduate degree at University of California, Berkeley and went on to graduate school at Princeton University.

Professionally, she made her way to the Department of American Studies at Notre Dame.

"Notre Dame is a top 20 research institution in the United States and I really appreciate its strong Catholic mission with a focus on service to others. So that's what drew me here,” says Huynh.

Huynh now teaches courses in critical refugee studies, immigration, and race. She is particularly passionate about teaching Introduction to Asian American Studies, a signature course that focuses on the history and experiences of Asians in the U.S.

In addition to courses, she says there are many opportunities, especially for first-generation students, at Notre Dame.

“Notre Dame has so many resources, including career counseling…” She points to the Meruelo Family Center for Career Development, which offers career counseling and programming through the First Generation Careers initiative.

Huynh describes other resources on campus available to first-generation Notre Dame students. “There are so many resources on campus to help you gain internship experience, service experience, including learning new languages or working at a nonprofit, for example, during the summer or working one-on-one with faculty,” she says. “I've had students work with me on research and they do this through applying for undergraduate grants, through all the different institutes on campus.”

Overall, Huynh advises prospective first-generation students to research and take advantage of the resources available to them. That includes reaching out to Notre Dame alumni, people from their high school who have gone to college, and, above all, “Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” says Huynh. “Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength.”

She notes that it’s up to first-generation students to figure out “the rules of the game” when it comes to applying for admission and attending college. “And how do you figure out those rules?” she says, “By asking lots of questions to figure out how the system works.”

Check out the video above to hear more from Professor Jennifer Huynh.

Tavin Martin

More FirstGen@ND:



Originally published by Shannon Rooney at on October 05, 2023.